The Girl Scouts’ Digital Cookie Site is not, by definition, a true affiliate program. However, on the surface, the new Girl Scout’s online store acts like an affiliate program, talks like an affiliate program and, unfortunately, failed like some affiliate programs.

As an Affiliate Manager and Girl Scout Mama, I greeted the Digital Cookie opportunity with enthusiasm. Since I have experience in building online stores, I was “voluntold” (parent speak for when you’re told you will be working for free but it’s done in a way that makes it seem as though you offered your time), that I would lead the charge in getting our troop and their parents up to speed. So, I dug deep into the Digital Cookie program. From an affiliate marketers’ standpoint, there were several things about the new program that I loved. But, there is also one major flaw that will completely undermine the success of this new venture.

Positives and Negatives of the Girls Scouts’ Digital Cookie Sales Affiliate Program

Here are seven things the Girl Scouts did well in setting up their online cookie sales site:

1) Understood how to treat their affiliates

The Girl Scouts remained true to their core objective of girl empowerment and only let Girl Scouts participate in Digital Cookie sales. Corporate protects their top affiliates (the scouts) but not selling direct to the consumer.

Set up a great affiliate tracking system

Each scout is given a unique URL for tracking her individual cookie sales in real time.

2) Created opportunities for affiliate recruitment

Girl Scouts held rallies, set bonuses, sent targeted emails, placed direct mail and held troop meetings to attract and motivate their affiliates. The Girl Scouts understand what motivates their affiliates and set aside enough of a budget to deliver the types of incentives that will drive sales.

3) Provided the tools for affiliate success

Each scout is given the tools to create their own personal mini store. They can customize the site with their photo, a short introductory video; state their personal sales goals and their troops’ goals.

4) Delivered excellent educational and promotional tools

The Girl Scouts offered sales tips, banner ads and nutritional details for the scouts to create a highly qualified user to the online store.

5) Integrated online sales and offline sales through branding

The Girl Scouts’ messaging and cookie order form online were consistent with the Girl Scout’s branding and offline materials.

6) Fraud protection and monitoring

I found no cases of overzealous parents selling online using SEO keywords, Twitter or PPC. Either the Girl Scouts have an amazing group of parents and scouts who don’t break rules, or they are diligently monitoring for these offenses and dealing with them swiftly. They also did a great job of clearly outlining their terms and conditions for participation within the program.

Where it all went wrong

With all the positives, it seemed that Digital Cookie would be a great success. I was excited for my daughter and her troop to participate. However, one large flaw derailed the entire program…at least for our troop. The shipping cost was outrageous. Approximately $12 to ship one box! Granted it was $12 to ship 6 boxes as well but they lost me at the crazy shipping cost.

Affiliate Program Management Lessons Learned

Below are lessons potential online stores can learn from the Girl Scouts’ mistake. Here are four things to remember before setting up an affiliate program:

1) Shipping costs are the number one reason for cart abandonment

Amazon has trained consumers to expect free shipping. While online shoppers will tolerate reasonable shipping prices, shipping prices over the cost of the product will results in loss of sales.

2) Test, Test and Test Again

If the Girl Scouts had tested their shipping rates or online experience with consumers prior to launch, Digital Cookie selling would have been a success. Test your online store to ensure it converts with consumers before launching your program. You have one chance to make an impression with your affiliates. If your site does not convert, an affiliate will leave.

3) Understand What Motivates an Affiliate to Sell

The Girl Scouts are lucky in that their affiliates are addicted to badges, uniforms and attending awesome camps. They will sell as much as they can to earn those perks. However, your affiliate program is not so fortunate. As I always say, I can have a fabulous relationship with an affiliate but if I don’t make that affiliate money, s/he will leave my program.

4) Don’t Get Greedy

It’s no secret that the Girls Scouts have an amazing profit margin built into their cookie sales. $1 of each box sold goes to the troop/girl; $4 goes back to the corporation. Millions and millions of cookies are sold each year. Consumers are smart enough to do the math, but are still willing to buy to support the cause. Inflating your shipping fees is insulting. The Girl Scouts missed out on a great opportunity.

In Conclusion

I hope next year the Girl Scouts makes Digital Cookie Sales a more realistic selling tool. Will this year’s oversights prevent me from helping my daughter sell cookies? Absolutely not! However, I was really looking forward to teaching my daughter solid eCommerce skills and this is not the way to do it.

So, we will work on her offline sales skills, instead. If you need to reach me over the next few months, you can find me with my daughter, pulling our wagon through our neighborhood and standing in front of our lottery-won assigned grocery store. We’ll be the ones selling the old school way.

Looking to bypass making the same mistakes for your affiliate program? I am currently looking to add one more client to my managed programs. Click here to see if we are a good fit.

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